Bayou City

Houston Breweries Cozy Up to Local Music Scene

Houston's Fat Tony rocks the crowd last year at 8th Wonder's third anniversary party, aka "Celebr8ion of Beer."
Houston's Fat Tony rocks the crowd last year at 8th Wonder's third anniversary party, aka "Celebr8ion of Beer." Photo by Marco Torres
Music and beer: There’s no denying the natural attraction between the two. Neither one will ever let us forget that while they can exist independently, they’re best enjoyed together. Several of the Inner Loop’s noteworthy live-music venues — Fitzgerald’s, White Oak Music Hall, Rudyard’s, Last Concert Cafe — not only showcase Houston’s music scene on a near-nightly basis, but tap into our local brews as well. But what if you’re craving a brewer-specific beer that your venue or bar of choice doesn’t pour yet, yet don’t want to sacrifice those tasty jams? A growing number of local breweries have you covered there as well.

It’s safe to assume that most Houston brewmasters and their crews are music lovers, so it’s no surprise that some are musicians, too. At Saint Arnold’s, the brewery's very own freestyle MC Jeremy Johnson, aka Germatic, and Executive Chef Ryan Savoie, aka DJ Franklin Mint, serve as prime examples. And with breweries opening up every other month lately, it seems, there is no shortage of taprooms to showcase local talent. It’s almost a given that at any time during the year, Karbach Brewing Co., located on the northwest loop, has some live music going on — its Love Street Blues Series returns next Wednesday with the Sparky Parker Band.

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Wild Moccasins performing at a Saint Arnold's event.
Photo by Candace Garcia/Courtesy of Saint Arnold's
While Saint Arnold's works on a larger scale for live music, anniversary parties and special events, it’s impossible to miss one of Houston's most iconic brands anywhere in the city. “We have great relationships with Splice Records and Cactus Music,” says Priscilla Walker, a PR/Marketing rep for Saint Arnold’s. “With Splice Records, we supply the beer for many of their events including the larger ones like BowieElvis Fest and River Revival Festival. With Cactus Music, we supply beer for all in-store performances. These are great companies that highlight all genres of the local music scene, and we are proud to have great relationships with them.”

Quinn Bishop, general manager of Cactus Music, recalls that artists have long been partnered with or sponsored by various beers. Robert Earl Keen at one time was sponsored by Shiner, shortly before turning brewer himself with the Fredericksburg-based Pedernales Brewing Co. The worlds have long coexisted and lend to one another their strengths and opportunities. So it’s no accident that when Cactus returned to Houston in 2007, Saint Arnold’s founder Brock Wagner — also part-owner of Cactus — and Bishop hatched the idea of serving Saint Arnold’s during in-store performances. It was a smart decision that helped advance both businesses into their respective communities.

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The Suffers at a packed Cactus Music in-store
Photos courtesy of Cactus Music
Today, Cactus regularly invites local, regional and national acts to play its in-stores, which are always free to the public and often happen several times a week. Serving free beer at the store during the performances and signings brings people out who love beer and are interested in live music. Creating that kind of intimate atmosphere with a side of Houston pride can turn any Saturday-afternoon trip to Cactus into happy hour.

“It’s a way to reward the community of people that shop at our store, but also provides a carrot for an artist, if you aren’t particularly well known as a musician. We can always guarantee a modest crowd for people who are even mildly curious,” Bishop explains.

Fortunately, this trend is extending beyond record stores, bars that host music, and venues. EaDo’s 8th Wonder Brewery, especially, has created what seems the perfect formula for live music and craft beer. The brewery hosts local musicians on their Astroturf stage in "WonderWorld" (its back patio) to entertain their patrons on Thursdays and Fridays for its 8-Track concert series, which it hopes one day to expand through the weekend to enhance those ‘funday’ vibes.

Ryan Soroka, President and HypeMan of 8th Wonder, and his entire staff have created a culture within and around the brewery that oozes Houston pride. Nowhere will this be more evident than at 8th Wonder’s annual anniversary party, dubbed “Celebr8ion,” scheduled for this Saturday (March 18) from 2-10pm. The party toasts anything and everything Houston, complete with local vendors, food trucks and of course, live music. This year, its fourth, Austin’s White Denim will headline over Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk from New Orleans and the ultimate nerd-rap battle between Houston’s Guilla VS. Ill Faded; also on hand will be a slew of other H-Town talent, including –Us, Colonial Blue, Muddy Belle and the Vinyl Ranch DJs.

As if that weren’t enough, 8th Wonder has also taken on hosting this year’s Houston Whatever Fest on April 1 and 2, featuring both national and local music like AWOLNATION, Cold War Kids and Robert Delong, and comedians like T.J. Miller and The Gorburger Show. Both lineups are jam-packed with local musicians and artists for Houstonians to discover and enjoy, but it doesn’t stop there. 8th Wonder will be throwing events throughout the summer and then some, all featuring live music, like Crawfish and Brews on April 30 and Achtoberfest in October. Speaking with Soroka, it’s more than evident that this creative and musical atmosphere was inevitable; he says being a regular at Walter’s and Fitz at a young age solidified a place for local music in his life, one where no one genre of music dominates.

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Black Joe Lewis at last year's Celebr8ion.
Photo by Marco Torres
Furthermore, it's now a general consensus that 8th Wonder has become the unofficial, more or less, HQ for hip-hop/rap beer collabos, starring Bun B’s BrewGK Candy Apple Ale (expect a re-release soon) and Slim Thug’s Boss Beer Pineapple Wheat (which seems to sell out quicker than they can brew it, they say). The relationship extends to hosting events, including the Boss Life Backyard BBQ with Slim Thug; Screwed Up Sunday in honor of the late DJ Screw, and the most recent, and Super Bowl Paul Wall SLAB Show on Super Bowl weekend. For some, these trunk-poppin’, swangin’ and bangin’ good times were highly anticipated, but those who may have just come for a beer that night got way more than they bargained for: an experience that exposed them to a world they may not have otherwise encountered, and maybe even a grill fitting – all in their backyard and all for free. With events like these, 8th Wonder not only expands its reach for artists and beer lovers, but melts them into one pot to reaffirm that Houston is no one-trick pony. It’s no wonder they’re now working on more projects with the King of the Parking Lot.

Another brewery to dip its hand in the collaboration pool is Brash Brewing Co. just north of the Heights, in the G.O.O.F. area (Garden Oaks/Oak Forest). If you haven’t been yet, the name should give you a clue into the brewery’s atmosphere. The moment you walk into the taproom/warehouse, it’s abundantly clear that it’s all metal all the time, with the walls of guitars and other metal memorabilia surrounding you. Brash owner Ben Fullelove and crew’s longtime love for metal shows through in the heavy and bold flavors they create. While their beer names are all plays on metal bands or songs, perhaps their most notable is Milk the Venom, a specially brewed milk stout for Houston’s Venomous Maximus.

Bassist Trevi Biles, a hot-sauce connoisseur and owner of Big Daddy’s Hot Sauces, even helped to create the beer, which features notes of chipotle from Biles’ own stash. So though Brash hosts music every once in a while, their connection to the community is still strong. The bond goes as far as a partnership with House of Blues wherein Brash supplies tickets to their patrons for shows, in turn supplying H.O.B. with more concertgoers and a few kegs to go along with it. “It’s a surreal kind of experience to watch a band you’ve admired and have been friends with, and then have a beer you created with them,” Fullelove explains.

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Daniel Oviedo performs an acoustic set at Under the Radar Brewery in Midtown/Museum District.
Photo by Olivia Johnson
Closer to downtown, situated among the townhomes and bungalows on the Midtown/Museum District boundary, the brewery and taproom known as Under the Radar utilizes its space well with a cozy outdoor patio and mood lighting that sets a chill scene every Friday from 6-8 p.m., its live-music hours. This is where Dan Oviedo, also known as the front man of Houston’s devilkillingmoth, can be found every last Friday of the month with his amp and acoustic guitar. While he has his own projects and shows outside of the brewery, Oviedo says he enjoys playing the breweries for multiple reasons.

“[Breweries] are replacing icehouses, you know?”, he says. “There, you could JUST get a tallboy. But now there’s these corner breweries, and if you’re an original band playing at brewery you get to showcase your sound to a more general demographic. You never know who could be attached to it.”

Oviedo also points out that this has a very green, organic type of relationship — he was first approached by a friend of a friend to come play, keeping this scene word-of-mouth (for now). “Four years ago if you were an original band, you’d want to play a party or club at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.,” he notes. “But now with these breweries, you can play a show at 7 p.m., rock out, and it’s less intense. You also get to meet people who are into the same stuff you are, and that opens the door to other breweries.”

8th Wonder Brewery's fourth annual "Celebr8ion of Beer," featuring White Denim, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, and a gaggle of H-Town acts, is scheduled for Saturday, March 18 at 8th Wonder Brewery, 2202 Dallas. The fun starts at 2 p.m.; GA/VIP tickets are $35/$125 (advance) or $45/$150 (day of), available at this link.
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Olivia Johnson is a proud UH-Downtown alum and writer. This Houston Press contributor loves Mexican food, her pup Matilda, and Beyonce, because obviously.